How biology texts mislead high school students
Published: 13 April 2007 (GMT+10)
I have been a high school music teacher for over 40 years and recently retired from full-time teaching. Since then I have been casually employed as a supply and short-contract teacher, and had the opportunity to see the text books and lesson plans for a wide variety of school subjects. I have been appalled at the way evolutionary concepts (and humanistic thought-patterns) pervade a wide range of subjects and topics.
I recently had the opportunity to look closely at some senior biology texts.1 Where the objective scientific information is presented it is generally well done, and I will not comment further. But I noticed that evolutionary assumptions are constantly promoted, whether relevant to the topic or not.
For example, a chapter on excretory systems in fish (Biology One, p. 284) begins with the bald statement that ‘Life began in the sea’. It then ‘explains’ that therefore salt-water fish began with salt levels in their blood similar to that of the ocean, having no problem with salt and water balance until they migrated to fresh water, where they evolved more dilute body fluids which were subsequently a problem when they migrated back to the sea.
How’s that for a ‘just so’ story without scientific support? Evolution changes the dilution of fish body fluids over millions of years as they moved from salt water to fresh, but it ‘forgets’ to do the same on the return. Also, how is it that all of today’s bony fish descended from freshwater varieties? Did the sea dry up for a while?2
I wouldn’t have thought this series of events would have even been proposed in a scientific text book, but similar unfounded and irrelevant fairy stories occur at the beginning of other chapters. Surely the observed workings of biological systems can be presented without this kind of unnecessary and fanciful introduction, which sits in the minds of the students as a foundation through the chapter. Actually this is straight-out indoctrination, because it is repeated with variations ad nauseum and without qualification or evidence throughout the text.
What interested me most was the last two chapters of Biology Two, where, after pounding the evolutionary scenario as fact for the two-year course, the text presents ‘Evidence for Evolution’ and ‘Mechanisms of Evolution’ (two chapters out of twelve—a sixth of the Year 12 course). The chapters ‘interested’ me because I recognized, from the reading I had done, that the ‘evidence’ presented did not support evolution as the text-book had portrayed it in its chapter introductions. If this ‘evidence’ is the best evolutionists can do, they have no right teaching evolution as fact. I felt very concerned for the students because they should have been educated about the problems, the counter evidence and alternative arguments, especially since these concepts affect their world view and self-image.
Any change is evolution—not
The most glaring problem to anyone willing to think about it is the way the texts use a vague definition of evolution to justify the validity of the ‘evidence’ and ‘mechanisms’. The book says that ‘Evolution is a process of change’.
That’s it! Although the same paragraph explains that the theory of evolution proposes that all living things have a common ancestor, it does not expand the definition.
From there, any observed change represents evolution.3 What poor logic! The problem is that the small changes are going in the wrong direction. The small changes observed cannot cross the divide between phyla and other higher-order divisions, which the theory claims, but this is studiously ignored. Consequently, the term ‘evolution’ is applied so broadly that no one can argue against it.
This is most obvious in the ‘mechanisms’ chapter, where an almost laughable example involves the population of Pingelap Island. Here a chief with a genetic disease has, through his many children, ‘had an important evolutionary effect’ on the population through genetic drift (emphasis mine). I suspect eugenicists would cringe at the thought. Yes, the genetic disease is real, as is the effect on his children. But this is not the sort of change that will turn a fish into a falcon over millions of years. That needs new genetic information in order to specify new biological components.
Similarly, the text claims that ‘the Australian sheep blowfly has evolved chemical resistance to … dieldrin’. But then the text itself points out that the resistant strain already existed in the population before the introduction of dieldrin as an insecticide. The argument is that, because the resistant strain became dominant for a while (‘change’!), therefore ‘evolution’ has occurred. But there is no new genetic information.
The text does explain that selection produces no new genetic material, but then it promotes several examples of selection as examples of evolution, such as the hoary old peppered moth, and antibiotic resistance. The confusion arises from the poor definition of evolution—that ‘change = evolution’. Such appalling illogic from a science text! But as indoctrination it is highly dangerous because it is so subtle.
Pretty pictures and circular reasoning
The ‘Evidence for Evolution’ chapter presents nothing that cannot be easily demolished by someone with a little knowledge and a reasonable eye for indoctrination tricks. The first is a picture of your typical ‘ape-man’ plodding across a barren landscape with a volcano in the background. This evocation of a constantly-presented evolutionary scenario is evidence for nothing—you might as well have a picture of Jabba the Hut, trekking across a Star Wars landscape. Both are imaginary!
Next the chapter deals with the definition of evolution, which is so vague it is scientifically useless, as discussed above. Then come justifying statements like: ‘Comparing living organisms and fossils allows us to discover evolutionary relationships’. This, of course, ignores circular reasoning and the problem of interpreting data through a paradigm—where all evidence, no matter what, is evidence for evolution. No other possibility is considered. (The paradigm concept is discussed in the Year 9 text from this same publisher, but is ignored here, where it matters.)
No questions about fossils and dating
The ‘formation of fossils’ section gives the uniformitarian story, of course. No alternative explanation is considered, so it again represents indoctrination rather than education.
This applies also to sections discussing other ‘evidences’ like the ‘geological column’, which, considering that large chunks of the column are missing from most locations throughout the world, and the lack of evidence for long periods of time between layers, speaks of a violent, global Flood, not eons of time. The preponderance of marine fossils over land-dwellers can be explained ecologically rather than chronologically. And the discussion of stasis (a Gingko biloba fossil is pictured, claimed to be 115 Ma old) ignores the possibility that similarity to modern organisms indicates that the millions of years are imaginary, or that evolution does not occur, or both. (For more examples of living fossils, see Q&A on ‘living fossils’.)
An information box explains a little of how radiometric ‘dating’ works, but, as is typical of ‘biased’ publications, it ignores very real problems: underlying assumptions about starting ratios and decay rates, open systems, impossibility of calibration, after-the-event acceptance/non-acceptance of ‘dates’ by geochronologists, different ages given by different methods, different ages within one lava flow, incongruous ‘ages’ for rocks of known age and so on. (See Q&A Radiometric Dating.) If the text is to be honest, it should deal with some of these things, because the long ages given by these methods are crucial to the evolutionary paradigm. Good science is about questioning and investigating, not about toeing the party line. (See Who’s really pushing ‘bad science’?)
Concepts like indicator fossils, comparative anatomy, phylogenetic trees, and biogeography are given as supportive evidence for evolution, but the circularity of such arguments is ignored. Our future scientists need to be trained to think critically and question, so why is this kind of empty presentation given as an example of scientific process?
Long-discredited arguments still used
The next arguments presented concern ‘embryonic development’ and ‘vestigial structures’—both long-discredited, even by evolutionists themselves. A chapter on ‘Sexual reproduction and development’ in the Year 11 book (Biology One) ignorantly states (p. 324), under a group of Haeckel’s drawings, ‘Gills are clearly present in the early stages of embryonic development in all vertebrates.’ (emphasis mine) Why is such complete nonsense in any text today? Is it because the writers aren’t keeping up-to-date? Or maybe these things are just too effective in the indoctrination process to let them go? (See also Ernst Haeckel: Evangelist for evolution and apostle of deceit)
The assertion in the text that ‘the molecules on which life depends arose as an “organic soup”’ has no basis in any real evidence. Why is it here? The text tries to justify this statement by explaining the Miller and Urey experiments, but these are irrelevant, because their starting assumption about the ‘primitive’ atmosphere has been proven wrong. They have as much to do with evolution as medieval attempts to produce gold from base metals (alchemy), and have about as much chance of success. The statement that these experiments explain ‘how life may have begun on earth’ is misleading and contradicts the book’s own chapter one explanation that ‘life only comes from life’. It is a fairy tale. (See also Why the Miller–Urey research argues against abiogenesis)
Attempts to make the comparative anatomy argument seem more plausible by discussing the concept at molecular level fail miserably. The statement that ‘As they need many of the same gene products (enzymes) to function, cats and humans have many of the same genes’ is reasonable in terms of observational science. But the statement: ‘The simplest explanation for the similarity of linkage groups … is that these organisms have a common ancestry’ is not based on observational science. Rather it is simply evolutionary speculation based on circular reasoning again. (Such similarities are better explained by a common designer. See What about similarities and other such arguments for evolution?)
Negatively impacting students’ self image
The section on ‘being human’ demonstrates how school texts parrot other text books, but as has been said, the evolutionary sequences are neat and clear only in text books. Take, for example, the now discredited ‘horse series’. In the real world, ideas about evolution are very tentative and subject to constant debate, especially over the issue of human origins.
The gene tree presented for humans is exactly what would be expected from the biblical ‘table of nations’ in Genesis. Why doesn’t a school text on the subject admit this? Is it because students are not to question the standard line?
Lastly, the text makes even fewer scientific statements to justify its ‘evidence for evolution’ by discussing ‘cultural evolution’. The statement that during the last 10,000 years cultural and social structures have become ‘progressively more complex’ not only relies on little evidence but contradicts the facts. The earliest civilizations produced highly sophisticated and complex cultures early (building amazing structures, some still inexplicable), followed by decline, even to ‘cave man’ standard (seen in many cultures even in modern times), followed again by technological advance in modern times under Christian principles. The evidence is better explained by the biblical account of dispersion after the Flood (and subsequent Ice Age—see What about the Ice Age?).
Textbooks can make great object lessons
I was aware that these sorts of problems existed in school text books, since they had already been discussed in articles such as What biology textbooks never told you about evolution. But I found it quite disturbing when I encountered the problem in my own teaching program.
In my view, the way these high school texts present the material is nothing short of indoctrination, and I am personally appalled that it continues in the classroom with the approval of most teachers, especially science teachers. Probably most are ignorant of both the weaknesses in the arguments and evidence presented, and the implications of the evolutionary view for the developing world-view of the students they teach. In my view, it is incumbent upon the teaching staff to routinely explore with the students (and not only students of biology) the short-comings of the evolutionary paradigm as presented in their text books. In fact, the text books should be used as ‘exhibits’ for the classroom, and students encouraged to identify those places where the text is presenting personal beliefs rather than scientific observations.
How do we do this? On an individual level we can be informed of the problems and stimulate questions and investigation in our classrooms. On a local level, I have handed a detailed review of the text books concerned to the head of science in a local school. However, I have received no response to date. More broadly still, perhaps the matter should be raised as input into the Federal Government’s proposals for a national curriculum.
- Evans, B., Ladiges, P., McKenzie, J., and Sanders, Y., Heinemann Biology One and Heinemann Biology Two (years 11 and 12 texts, respectively). Return to Text
- Although many marine invertebrates have a similar ionic strength in their body fluids to sea water, they still adjust various ions to concentrations above or below sea water. Calcium concentration, for example, is often higher than sea water. Some evolutionary populists have even claimed that human blood serum is similar to sea water in composition, because life supposedly came from the sea, but this is completely fallacious. See wrong direction and Presidents and evolution. Return to Text
- Using a lame definition of evolution that does not reflect the real claim about evolution that they are making is an example of the fallacy of equivocation. Evolution is not just a claim that living things change, but that one basic kind of organism changed into another—ultimately that all living things, including mealy bugs, mangoes and humans, had one common ancestor, some sort of microbe that made itself from chemicals. See peppered moth. Return to Text